Why Swedish graphic designer Fredrika Stern loves Adobe mobile apps and capturing animals in a sketchbook

I found it fascinating that what I drew with my index finger was directly turned into vector graphics.

We had a great chat with Graphic Designer Fredrika Stern, in which she shared how she creates digital illustrations using only Adobe CC mobile apps, an iPad and her index finger. Yes, that’s right, her index finger – not any of the plethora of available styluses for Apple iOS devices.

I’ve always created visual things, above all I’ve been drawing and painting as long as I can remember – using different techniques. I prefer drawing with pencils and calligraphy pens or using only my iPad. I prefer painting with oil.

When asked how she got into illustrating on her iPad using only her index finger she told the most unusual story:

I broke my leg and my foot last winter (February 2014) and was bedridden for 4 months. I became extremely bored and started drawing when I got tired of doing everything else (reading books, watching television series back to back etc). As I have ‘pen and paper’ drawing skills, at first I drew only with pencil and calligraphy pens in my ‘analog’ sketchbook. Until then I had barely touched my sketchbook since I started working as a graphic designer. My newfound interest in drawing, combined with hours of reading magazines, browsing various design/art blogs and my Instagram feed, spurred my creativity. Of course I had heard of all the iPad apps out there, but just never tried them myself. So I simply bought an iPad and began to explore the various drawing apps available on Apple’s App Store.

She goes on:

I got into using Adobe Ideas and later on Adobe Draw CC. I found it fascinating that what I drew with my index finger was directly turned into vector graphics. (Today I also use Adobe Shape CC to directly vectorise images). This is true, I love experimenting with Shape, however none of my finalized iPad-illustrations so far are created with Shape, they’re all drawn by hand. But vectorizing an image with Shape helps me decide what areas of the illustration to focus on and defines the outlines of a motif. Earlier my process was very different. I scanned a drawing I made, pulled up the contrasts and tried to vectorise it the best I could in Adobe Illustrator, with mixed results.

Why not pen and paper?

But how come she is using her index finger, when most creatives with ‘pen and paper’ skills usually use a stylus when moving from analog classic drawing to digital illustrations. Fredrika’s argument is simple:

My index finger felt more natural, came closer to my ‘pen and paper’-approach and gave me much better control of what I was trying to draw.

I sync all my files from Adobe Ideas/Draw/Shape to my Creative Cloud account, which makes the process incredibly smooth. I also don’t have to worry about backing up all the time. A great plus is that all changes are automatically saved while working. One less command. My only concern is to always make sure my tablet is charged.

This is how her experimental process started:

I experimented and started to draw different animals. I’ve always been fascinated by animals, but I’m really not the typical ‘animal person’. My thing is not to depict the typical cute, ‘nice’ traits of the animals, instead I look to capture different expressions in the animals I draw. I’m actually somewhat scared of animals but I don’t have a phobia per se. I strive to bring out something human in my animals and reflect their less charming side.

I illustrate all sorts of animals – whichever comes to mind, a mixture of living and extinct species, from all corners of the world. Instagram is a great source of inspiration to me. As I’m inspired by tattoo art I follow several tattoo artists among many other art/design-focused accounts on Instagram. I also watch a lot of shows on National Geographic channel and I’m inspired by their images. Often I take a screenshot from Instagram or google search a picture of an animal that’s stuck in my mind, and I use it as a reference to start with when I draw.

‘Offspring’, a rhino mother and her kid. The dotted pattern is an example of her way of creating the feel of the rhinos ‘shield’, their rough skin that works as their armor against enemies and the climate they live in.

Fredrika’s iPad drawing workflow

This is how Fredrika makes it all happen with the tools at her disposal:

I first sketch the image in my sketchbook, then I fill in the lines with calligraphy pen or a marker pen. When I create the outline, I draw freely and fill in with graphic patterns, lines and shapes. I am looking for the clash that occurs between a live animal’s natural organic forms, and the more rigid, graphic geometric forms that I add to my motifs. It creates a tension and adds something unnatural.

Instagram was a key tool to get her work out there:

I started to upload my illustrations to Instagram to ‘gauge’ what people really think about what I do. I received very positive responses and was encouraged to continue. I’ve done some commissioned work, a tattoo and printed up some of the motifs. I love the feeling of holding a newly printed 70×100 items, on a fine art paper, frame it and hang it up on the wall knowing that it all started as a pencil sketch in an A4 pad.

I have a profile on Behance. As my Behance account is synced to my Adobe apps I often upload my work directly to Behance, either as work in progress or a finished project. I like the idea of ‘teasing’ my audience with sneak peeks of my work. I often take screen shots of my work, while drawing, to remember what the motif looked like before it was finalized, but also to publish them and get input/feedback as I go. I believe this is something I do as I’m so used to the traditional sketching process that follows when drawing the ‘analog’ way – one sketches, erases, sketches, erases and so on. I guess the screenshots I take during the process are my way of recreating the feel of an old school sketchbook in a digital environment where all steps of the process are otherwise automatically forever lost.

Introducing… ‘Franimals’

‘Franimals’ play a key role in Fredrika’s work. But what are they? She explains:

Over time I have found that my illustrations evokes a unique expression and I ran into the word ‘Franimal’. Urban Dictionary defines them as such: “Friend, enemy or animal? Kinda like Frenemies, but way worse. Embodied by the trickster good.” I felt it fitted perfectly into my work and I have begun to collect all my illustrations under that name.

And this is what defines her graphic style:

I have an aptitude for graphic patterns, lines and geometric shapes. These days tattoos and ‘clean line’ illustrations are very trendy and this styles suits tools such as Adobe Ideas and Adobe Draw CC very well as you can use them to create vector graphics. It’s amazing that what I’ve drawn on my iPad can be scaled up to just about any size. When I’m done with the illustration on the iPad I import the file into Illustrator and finish the job there. It can be any line that needs adjustment or any item that needs to be moved in the layout. Finally, I assemble the finished illustration in InDesign, where I change the format and create a print file, which can then be sent to the printers.

It’s all about flexibility and power

When asked why she liked Adobe mobile apps better, as opposed to a plethora of other illustration and drawing apps available on Apple’s App Store, she replied:

I love the flexibility and power they give me. I especially love the integration between the mobile and the desktop apps such as Adobe Illustrator too. I now always carry my iPad with me and I can create something as soon as I get some free time. Many of my illustrations have come to during different flight trips or during weekend mornings in bed, before I even gotten up and had breakfast. Sometimes I sit in a cafe and just draw.

Fredrika Stern tells us more about her process in the video below:

About Fredrika Stern

Swedish Graphic Designer Fredrika Stern.

Fredrika works at Swedish B2B ad agency Hilanders in Stockholm.

She has a past as a freelance designer, working at Prime PR Stockholm and later at Witness Org NYC, USA. A graduate from Stockholm University’s Graphic Management Program (GI) she’s also taken various graphics and communications related courses at Berghs School Of Communications and Södertörn University in Stockholm.

Check out her website and follow her work on Behance, Instagram and Tictail.